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The Enlightenment Dorinda Outram Cambridge University Press 2 edition


31st January 2012 History Books 7 Comments

‘… this is a wide-ranging and useful survey of the field.’ Norman Hampson, Modern and Contemporary France

Debate over the meaning of ‘Enlightenment’ began in the eighteenth century and has continued unabated until our own times. This period saw the opening of arguments on the nature of man, truth, on the place of God, and the international circulation of ideas, people and gold. The second edition of this unique textbook offers a fresh introduction, a new chapter on slavery, and new material on the Enlightenment as a global phenomenon. The book will prove invaluable reading to students of eighteenth century history, philosophy, and the history of ideas.

Debate over the meaning of ‘Enlightenment’ began in the eighteenth century and has continued unabated until our own times. This period saw the emergence of arguments on the nature of man, truth, the place of God, and the international circulation of ideas, people and gold. In the second edition of her book, Dorinda Outram studies the Enlightenment as a global phenomenon, comparing it against the period’s broader social changes. The new edition also features a new introduction and chapter on slavery, and the bibliography and short biographies have been extended.

‘… this is a wide-ranging and useful survey of the field.’ Norman Hampson, Modern and Contemporary France

The Enlightenment (New Approaches to European History)

Eighteenth-Century Europe: Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789

Isser Woloch is the Moore Collegiate Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. His publications include The New Regime: Transformations of the French Civic Order, 1789-1820s, which won the Leo Gershoy Award of the American Historical Association.

The three-quarters of a century between 1715 and 1789 are often seen as the last years of Europe’s old order. But a dramatic rise in Europe’s population, the agricultural and industrial revolutions in Britain, and the unprecedented challenges of the Enlightenment began to shake the foundations of the old regime well before 1789.

Drawing on the best contemporary scholarship, especially the innovations of French social history, Isser Woloch paints an unusually rich and detailed portrait of eighteenth-century European life and society. Among the new topics he covers are the family economy of the poor, popular culture and the circulation of books, changing patterns of crime and punishment, and the social history of military and religious institutions.

Eighteenth-Century Europe: Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789 (The Norton History of Modern Europe)










  • 7 responses to "The Enlightenment Dorinda Outram Cambridge University Press 2 edition"

  • oldschool
    17:12 on January 31st, 2012
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    I took a college course on the Enlightenment. The Outram book gave a slightly different perspective from the course texts. It was worth it.

  • Saner Rijet
    0:07 on February 1st, 2012
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    The book was in the exact shape they said it was in, and is awesome.

  • Javier
    23:23 on February 2nd, 2012
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    When I was in graduate school in the 1980s we devoured such books as this, a part of the “Norton History of Modern Europe.” Isser Woloch’s “Eighteenth-Century Europe: Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789″ is a fine overview of nearly a century of history in Europe between the end of most of the religious wars of the Reformation and counter-Reformation and the age of revolution that began with the French Revolution in 1789. Fundamentally, this is a story of Enlightenment ideas, reform based on those ideas, and the setting for greater changes to come in the nineteenth century. Chapters on monarchy, absolutism, and rising republicanism; international relations and great power rivalries; the social order and economics and the state; authority versus democracy; religion and spirituality; poverty, culture, and ideas; and related major themes dominate the narrative.

    In this volume some of the key themes that had vexed European life for centuries came to the fore. The most pressing was the nature of poverty, class, and reform. In Eastern Europe the Mediaeval feudal system still existed, but it was weakening and Serfs soon gained their freedom in Russia, Poland, and other states. In the West this concept had already withered, only to be replaced with other equally difficult problems of class and poverty. Some of those problems would be resolved violently via revolution. Others; well not so much.

    Some of the aristocracy recognized that reforms were necessary and undertook them. Joseph II of the Austro-Hungarian Empire spent a decade pursuing Enlightenment ideas in the rule of this state before his death, and he may have forestalled some of the dryrot present in the empire for a century. Frederick the Great did the same in Prussia, where he worked tirelessly to organize German might not just from a military standpoint but also through administrative and especially philosophical and cultural reforms.

    The result is a breathless survey of Europe in the eighteenth century. It is a very good book, and although it is now more than a generation old, having been published originally in 1982, it remains a very useful study. It is something of an Annales school study focused more on social and cultural aspects of the story than on geopolitics, battles, and leaders. For a specialist it may seem a bit elementary, but as a general introduction it is excellent.

  • M Simons
    4:02 on February 4th, 2012
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    This was a required text, but I am glad I own it. Some of the best stories you already know all in one book.

  • RattyUK
    15:30 on February 4th, 2012
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    I fully recommend purchasing the book from this company because it arrived in less than a week and it was brand new.

  • Anna Poelo
    19:48 on February 4th, 2012
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    Books in this series are supposed to be written as introductions to important topics in European history, accessible to undergraduates or even advanced high school students. This book doesn’t really meet these requirements. The Enlightenment is structured as a series of linked essays on important topics related to the Enlightenment. These include the social context of the Enlightenment, government and the Enlightenment, gender and the Enlightenment, etc. There is a short introductory chapter which is primarily devoted to historiography of the Enlightenment. The essays are generally quite good but don’t really provide the needed overview or basic narrative to accomplish the stated aims for books in this series. This book is most useful as a series of summaries of recent scholarship on the Enlightenment and can be used most usefully by someone who already has significant knowledge in this area. For teachers, I’d recommend using this book as an ancillary to a basic narrative text or even in conjunction with something like Peter Gay’s magisterial overview of the Enlightenment. For general readers, this book is most useful as a review of recent scholarship.
    To the extent that this book has a theme, it would be the increasing appreciation of the diversity and complexity of the Enlightenment. Outram takes pains to show Enlightenment positions are being more variable than often presented. Following the work of others, she is concerned with rebutting or undermining what has been regarded as a canonical view derived from scholars like Peter Gay that the Enlightenment can be summarized as a liberal reform program. For Outram, as for others, The Enlightenment as a unitary phenomenon does not exist. She, like others, also objects to the tendency to align the Enlightenment with a relatively small group of French intellectuals. Much of this is well taken, and Outram’s individual essays are very informative. The discussions of government and the Enlightenment, religion and the Enlightenment, and science and the Enlightenment are particularly good.
    On the other hand, there problems with some of her thematic analysis. While the Enlightenment cannot perhaps be easily summarized, at least not in the way suggested by scholars like Peter Gay, the concept retains considerable power and integrity. This is implicitly acknowledged in the title of this book, which is after all, The Enlightenment, not Enlightenments. Implicit in Outram’s discussions are recurrent themes such as the importance of reason, skepticism towards received authority, the desire to use knowledge to improve the human condition, etc., which are stated by people like Gay to be basic unifying features of the Enlightenment. Outram’s discussions add nuance to traditional views but don’t contradict them, and in some ways implicitly endorse them. I think Outram overstates the extent to which recent scholarship has qualified views of the Enlightenment. The recent emphasis on greater geographic variation of the Enlightenment is an example. Peter Gay himself made a good deal out of American participation in the Enlightenment and he was hardly the first scholar to do so. Smith, several Americans, and Kant have long been considered important figures of the Enlightenment. Since when have Glasgow, tidewater Virginia, and Konigsberg been part of the heartland of Europe. Outram disparages the emphasis on French intellectuals yet her own text repeatedly cites the experience and writings of Voltaire, Diderot, etc., undercutting her explicit point.
    While Outram is a careful scholar and writer, she also commits some missteps. Her discussion of Hume’s epistemology as part of a critique of 18th century science is somewhat offbase. She presents Hume’s views correctly but incompletely. Hume thought of himself as carrying out a Newtonian program of research in human psychology and far from undercutting the validity of scientifically generated knowledge, he placed it in a privileged position. Her discussion of 18th century voyages of exploration and the tendency of European intellectuals to project utopian visions onto Pacific island societies is astute but she overlooks the fact there was probably a significant kernal of truth in reports of the utopian nature of these cultures. Because of their biological isolation, these societies lacked many of the epidemic diseases that plagued the rest of the world. For example, a high percentage of Cook’s crew probably had disfiguring smallpox scars, something that would have been unknown in Polynesia prior to contact with Europeans.

  • John Baxter
    22:43 on February 4th, 2012
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    Most history books tend to either be too long and in-depth on a topic of interest or too brief. This book is neither, which is especially impressive given that it clocks in under 200 pages and covers, essentially, a century.
    Outram succeeds in her basic layout of the book and in her lack of “kiddie gloves” in respect to her audience. She opens the book with a discussion of differing interpretations of the Enlightenment, in particular an essay contest in a Berlin newspaper in 1785. Outram begins with a discussion of Kant’s response to the question, “What is Enlightenment?” Throughout the book, the scholar responds to shortcomings of other historical analyses of the period and explores, in short, 15-page sections, specific questions regarding the Enlightenment. Outram wastes no time diving into the complex morass of the eighteenth century. Writing in clear, lucid prose with a quick style, Outram brings to light new ideas on the Enightenment while responding to more traditional interpretations in due course.
    The history professor who is directing my seminar on Religious Toleration in Renaissance and Reformation Europe recommended this book. When I become a high school teacher, I’m pretty sure this is a text I will use.

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